My first real fiction writing was in college, when I wrote and performed in a sketch comedy group. It’s been twenty years since I’ve seen or read anything we wrote back then, so I have no perspective on whether what we produced was good or terrible. But I know that we believed in the work we were doing, and we were always driven by the simple motto of our group’s president: Something for Everyone. Every show was a melange of of slapstick, satire, jokes that landed, and jokes that didn’t.
It’s the kind of motto that’s so simple that it seems almost silly to repeat. Of course there should be something for everyone. Of course. But back then it was a reminder that there isn’t just one kind of comedy. An audience is made up of a lot of different people; what’s eye-rollingly lame for one person may be hilarious to someone else, so don’t yuck anyone’s yum. There’s room for all of it.
I was recently at a writing retreat with brilliant, inspirational speakers. One speaker gave a beautiful presentation, and she told a story about an art student who was devastated when a professor told her, “Your art looks like something I could find at Crate & Barrel.” Part of the talk was about how to avoid writing a Crate & Barrel book. After the lecture, my friend turned to me and said, “But I like Crate & Barrel.”
I laughed and said, “Dude, Crate & Barrel is all I write.” My forthcoming book series, Babysitting Nightmares, is a fairly-commercial spooky adventure series that is billed as Babysitters Club meets Goosebumps. I love poignant, thought-provoking symbolic writing; reading a beautifully-written book is like savoring a gourmet meal. It’s just not what I happen to be interested in writing right now.
That same speaker reminded us of the resonance and impact of writing. She said that once her first book was published, she realized that sales numbers didn’t matter; awards didn’t matter. If just one kid could read her book and say, “This means something to me,” then that is enough. That is the reason to write.
In my mind, I write the books I write for a specific imaginary kid. It’s the kid who flounders during free reading time, because she can’t find a book that pulls her in. It’s the kid who has almost no stars on the classroom reading chart. It’s the kid who says I don’t really like to read. I hated seeing those kids feel like they were always missing out on something, like reading was a punchline that everyone else seemed to get. Somewhere out there is a book that that kid will pick up and be able to say, Yes, I am a reader, too.
What I love about kidlit is also what I loved about comedy: the bandwidth is almost unlimited. We have so much freedom to tell the stories we want to tell. We need every kind of story to be out in the world, because we have every kind of kid looking for a way to connect. Something for everyone. There’s room for all of it. And I think that is why the kidlit community is such a supportive one. We celebrate one another because we know that with every new book comes a new opportunity for a child to find the reader within.
Kat Shepherd is a writer and educator living in Los Angeles with her husband, two dogs, and a rotating series of foster dogs. She has been an avid reader since childhood, and as a teacher she worked to bring that same joy to her students. She is thrilled to be creating fast-paced, spooky stories that can engage all types of readers. The first book from her Babysitting Nightmares series (Macmillan/Imprint) debuts in fall 2018. You can find Kat at katshepherd.com or connect with her on Twitter @bookatshepherd.